Friday, December 30, 2016

On Evlauation--the Devil is in the Details

I'm in a high-performing school. I realize that's not the norm in Fun City. Given that, though,  there are some ways the new evaluation system may work for my members. For one thing, as our test scores are not generally bad, we may be able to use them in lieu of the time-consuming and mystifying portfolios and projects offered as an alternative. On the other hand, in a lot of places that probably won't work, and you're stuck doing who knows what just to survive as a teacher.

Of course I could be wrong. Who knows what Bloomberg bringback Carmen Fariña, who deems blasting blizzards beautiful if Macy's is open, has up her sleeve? Tests can be and are manipulated, and she or the state could make sure they don't work in anyone's favor. Last I heard, ESL teachers like me were forced to use the NYSESLAT test as a measure. This test has nothing whatsoever to do with what I teach. Last week I identified a student with no idea how to use past tense in English who tested proficient. That's ridiculous.

On the plus side, a lot of teachers in my building were rated highly effective by supervisors but just effective by test scores. They were therefore rated effective overall. Under the matrix, if nothing changes, these teachers will be rated highly effective overall. They will thus have only three drive-bys over which to agonize rather than four. I don't know about you, but I have no problem allowing colleagues into my room at any time to observe my classes. I'm happy to discuss what works and what doesn't with them, so the peer observation is no issue for me. I let every student observer come in whenever they wish, and would do the same for my peers whether or not the system called for it.

As for administrators, UFT leaders either don't know or don't care what this system puts people through, even those who do well. They don't understand the constant stress. They don't have to worry about having their jobs on the line year in and year out. The only thing they have to worry about are mean old bloggers who persist in telling the truth, and they clearly don't let truth get in the way of their prime message--that everything is wonderful no matter what actually happens.

Of course relative wonderfulness can change too, even without the acknowledgement of leadership. I heard from a UFT Unity source that the DOE was running around doing norming earlier this school year, and that the overarching message was to rate teachers lower. I know for a fact that DOE people were in my school observing math. Though the teachers achieved excellent scores as a matter of course, the DOE said the teachers were ineffective anyway. I can't comment intelligently on what on earth DOE wants to see in math classes, but after decades of watching them close schools and fire teachers over test scores it's certainly ironic to see them bitching over excellent test results.

Then there is the matter of getting approval. One thing that is unquestionably a good idea is getting a waiver from the outside observers. This particular aspect of Cuomo's law was enacted because in NY State schools are the enemy, not to be trusted. That's why teachers are no longer allowed to grade their own students on Regents exams. The state takes us for a bunch of self-serving crooks who will manipulate our stats to make ourselves look good. They also assume supervisors will rate their teachers well to make themselves look good. This is because the state manipulates test scores as a matter of course to prove whatever it wishes to prove and therefore assumes everyone else is as crooked as they are.

So will we get the waiver on outside observers? If we do, will it be for the duration of our agreement or will it come back to bite us in our collective ass? Who knows? Probably UFT, but they haven't told me yet.

Of course I also realize that a system that works for our building is not a system that works. In fact, if we do well and nearby schools do not, it might argue for schools developing their own systems rather than being judged by the cookie cutter that is the new Cuomo law. The elephant in the room, as usual, is administration.

Micheal Mulgrew can stand up at the DA in front of God and everybody and shout to the skies that we are now protected from vindictive administrators. However, he also said that about the last iteration of the junk science law. I have seen people harassed and made miserable, and I have seen people fired under that law. I have seen small-minded vindictive administrators drive people from cardiac episodes to full blown heart attacks in school hallways. I've seen cancer patients driven out of buildings to face 3020a. I've seen victims of administrative abuse die prematurely. And I've concurrently been lectured by union hacks that if I didn't like the system I was therefore advocating for principals to have total control.

Here's the thing, though--I never saw morale so low as it's been under the new system. UFT Unity leaders, none of whom live under this system, can pat themselves on the back from here to eternity, but teachers were indisputably happier under the S/ U system. I certainly agree with UFT Unity that vindictive administrators are an issue. I therefore have to wonder why we don't address that. Why don't we get our asses off those seats at the table and insist that administrators support rather than harass UFT members? Why don't we dust off Special Circular 28 and insist that those who'd lecture us on how to do our jobs ought to show us that they can practice what they preach?

I've been told it would be unfair to make supervisors give demo lessons, because the fact is classes vary a lot, and there's no way to guarantee students in any given class would react well to lessons. That's absolutely true. But it's also absolutely true for every teacher working in New York City schools under the Danielson rubric. In fact I know supervisors who I've observed, and they were excellent. I also know supervisors who show such poor judgment in dealing with people that they couldn't possibly be good teachers. And these supervisors show absolute confidence as they trash working teachers. If they're as omniscient as they present themselves, let them open up their classrooms to be laboratories. Let us video them so we can more faithfully emulate the remarkable techniques they know perfectly.

Of course that's not gonna happen. Of course UFT leadership didn't make it part of the agreement. As far as I know, like fewer observations, they didn't even ask for it. Like all working teachers who haven't signed a loyalty oath, leadership didn't bother consulting me on this process. At best, we have an improved junk science system that will snag fewer teachers for no reason.

That said, being judged by better quality junk science is nothing for teachers to get excited about. 
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